Der Frachtschiffkapitän Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) wird eilig nach Paris zurückgerufen: Der Mann seiner Schwester Sandra hat Selbstmord begangen, die Firma des Pärchens ist bankrott und die Tochter völlig abgedriftet. Die Schuld trifft laut Sandra den Geschäftsmann Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor). Marco mietet sich eine Wohnung in dem Haus, wo auch Laportes Geliebte Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni) mit ihrem Sohn wohnt. Er verführt Raphaëlle, um Laporte näherzukommen und mehr über dessen wahre Motive und die Verbindung zu seinem Schwager herauszufinden. Im Laufe seiner Recherchen und bei einer Reise ans Ende der Nacht, für die es keinen Rückfahrschein gibt, enthüllt Marco die Abgründe von Finsternis und Korruption…
Les Salauds ist nicht nur ein großer Film von Claire Denis auf dem Höhepunkt ihrer Kunst, sondern auch eine freie Adaptation von Akira Kurosawas Die Bösen schlafen gut (1960), in dem der japanische Regisseur (unterstützt von seinem Lieblingsschauspieler Toshiro Mifune) das Thema der gesellschaftlichen Rache hinterfragte und das moderne japanische Politik- und Wirtschaftssystem, das sein Volk in Armut und Elend gestürzt hatte, mit gnadenloser Heftigkeit angriff. Claire Denis wiederum verlässt auch angesichts eines so hochpolitischen Themas nie die Sphäre der elementaren Gefühle, für deren Darstellung sie berühmt ist.
Les Salauds ist ein minimalistischer, erdrückend konkreter Krimi und zugleich ein metaphysischer Thriller über den schwindelerregenden Triumpf des Bösen. Er könnte an einen B-Movie von Walsh oder Tourneur erinnern, würde Claire Denis, deren Stil nie nüchterner war, die Abgründe der menschlichen Seele nicht mit einer Heftigkeit ausloten, die umso schwerer zu ertragen ist, als man sie fast nie auf der Leinwand sieht, sondern stets außerhalb des filmischen Rahmens erahnen muss. Die Darsteller – vertraute Gesichter oder Neulinge in der Welt der Regisseurin – sind allesamt wundervoll und spielen je nach Rhythmus des Films intensiv oder angenehm zurückhaltend. Unklar ist nur, in welchem Akt der Verzweiflung, Inbrunst oder Wut die Regisseurin die Kraft gefunden hat, eine so düstere Geschichte zu erfinden, zu erzählen und zu inszenieren. Les Salauds ist sicher ein schwarzer Diamant in ihrer Filmografie, intimes Röntgenbild und kompromisslose Illustration einer Welt, die sich selber abschafft – der unseren.
INTERVIEW MIT CLAIRE DENIS
What were the origins of “Bastards” (“Les Salauds”)? It’s always difficult for me to explain how old ideas and new events crystallize. In fact, in this case, it was me who crystallized entirely. I was at a point in my life, a rather hollow, empty moment during which I let time pass on certain projects, long-term projects as we say when they’re unclear, projects in which I alone believed. Vincent Maraval, who probably realized this, offered a hand to force me to move. Vincent Lindon calls him the shaman. In my case, it’s certainly true. So, one day in spring 2012, I thought of the French title of a magnificent Kurosawa film, Les Salauds dorment en paix (“The Bad Sleep Well”). This title gave me new heart and the desire to fight. That was my starting point: a strong, dependable man like Toshiro Mifune who, in those noir movies of Kurosawa’s, is both hero and victim - in any case the plaything of forces he neither controls nor understands. Vincent Lindon agreed to be this character.
How did you work from this unexpected starting point? I began with Jean-Pol Fargeau, the co-writer of most of my films, and after a week we’d found a starting point for something we liked a lot: the story of a man, as strong as they come, who can be relied on and who, because of his sense of duty, will be hurled, swept up by elements he couldn’t even have imagined. Between the lines came the idea of revenge, an ultimately impotent fury. From the start, this character, this Marco, had to be a sailor. The Navy is rather particular, for me; it’s a good way to be a man. He’s someone with ideals. It’s also a profession. He makes a living, can support a family, but from afar, without having to put up with the constraints of the everyday. He is far away.
How did Vincent Maraval react? Vincent Maraval liked the synopsis, as did Vincent Lindon. We had to move quickly if we wanted to shoot in the summer. Everything went exactly contrary to my usual habits. For me, the writing of a script is a time of wandering, hesitation, undoing and redoing. So Jean-Pol and I looked for a new method, to abandon my slowness. I thought that if each scene was presented as a block, and if after each block we’d jump one step in the narrative, it could help me to move faster and also, in fact, to improve. No transitional scenes. The film would be a succession of leaps.
What happened next? Maraval thought we ought to present our project to the CNC (French Cinema Government body granting advances on earnings before film production) right away, because it was one more way to hurry the film along, not forgetting that this could only work if screenplay and budget were of a piece. And we obtained the avance sur recettes, in late May 2012. All of a sudden, what had started almost as a game became very real. The two Vincents, Maraval and Lindon, had jump-started a motor that didn’t yet exist. Maraval also introduced me to Laurence Clerc and Olivier Théry Lapiney of Alcatraz Films who took the production in hand. Then he said: “You have to shoot without delay, starting in the summer.” That wasn’t the way I normally work either…
Wasn’t “35 Shots of Rum” shot in similar conditions? No, because even if that film was shot quickly and on a small budget, and with a relationship of trust and a slight challenge from the producer Bruno Pesery, it was a film I had carried within me for a long time. It was the story of my grandfather and my mother, a story I knew intimately, and that I came across again in one of Ozu’s films. In a sense I was over-prepared for “35 Shots of Rum”, whereas “Bastards” was a leap into the unknown.
Is the finished film very different from the screenplay? Not at all. The screenplay didn’t contain descriptions or comments; it stuck to the facts. And those are precisely the facts in the completed film, except for two scenes I abandoned for lack of time. The speed with which we moved from writing to shooting has a lot to do with it. When several months go by between the writing and the directing, it’s inevitable that you evolve more: I have doubts about everything.
When the time to shoot arrives, what do you know about the film you’re about to make? I know that the solid will become fragile, that Marco will be manipulated and tossed about by the others. I also know the right place will have to be found for another character that could have stayed in the shadows or not appeared at all: the young woman, his niece. In the film, all seems normal, everyone has a family, children are collected from school, they are given afternoon snacks - even the divorced couple manages to handle their relationship pretty well. But there’s the young woman. She’s from another state of the world.
She comes from another character who has always been with me: Temple, the female character in William Faulkner’s Sanctuary. When I was myself an adolescent, that book transformed me. I wasn’t frightened at all, on the contrary, the last chapter between father and daughter in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris gave me a rush, and a certainty that girls must deal with their sexual misfortunes by themselves. Temple takes out her compact and looks at herself.
Is Faulkner an important reference for you? Usually, young people are told: “You have your whole life ahead of you.” In Faulkner, “your whole life” isn’t much, it’s not going to be happy and it probably won’t last long. Faced with this, there are crossroads and decisions that allow no turning back. Decisions carried by desire, by self-affirmation, that might well lead to suffering and death, but in the asserting of who you are.
Is there something of you in this story? I don’t know. Probably, but not directly. That doesn’t interest me much. On the contrary, for me cinema allows empathy, sharing the pain of others, not talking about my own. That would be something else, a confession, a testimony. It’s because someone else suffers that it becomes a tragedy that might make you want to fight.
Did the image of this young girl, completely naked but for a pair of high heel shoes, walking in a street at night come to you early on? Yes, immediately. I’d read two news items: some garbage collectors had found a young girl naked near some dustbins, not dead but drugged; in the other story, a young woman was running in the streets totally naked, a police patrol picked her up. But what’s important, as much as her nudity, as much as the blood, as much as a city at night, is the fact that she isn’t motionless. She isn’t running either. She is walking. She is standing and moving forward, to where, no one can say. I was afraid to suggest Lola Créton for the part. She showed me how strong she was, capable of facing this. With a sort of guilt-free presence, maintaining control of her body, which means Sara, her character, is not conceived as a victim.
Even though she is very young Lola Créton already has a ‘cinema past’. Of course. I discovered her thanks to the films of Mia Hansen-Løve and Olivier Assayas. In the same way, Jeanne Disson and Elise Caron “come” from “Holy Motors”. These subterranean connections, the affective links between films, are important to me. Then there’s Laurent Grevill to whom I owe a great deal. He agreed to take on the role of Jacques, the father, showing such trust in me. I certainly didn’t want to expose Lola to a stranger. A brilliant actor was needed, one who was also aware of the magnitude of this tragedy - a Faulknerian man, in fact.
You were reunited with a lot of people you’re used to working with, in front of the camera and behind: Agnès Godard (DP), Michel Subor, Alex Descas, Grégoire Colin… Yes, of course, I need that. I trust them, they’re family to me. It’s different again with Alex (Descas), who is not only a cinema comrade. He embodies the Good Man. The good man in this film is the one who knows, or guesses. Sometimes I feel I’m seeing the film through him, I need him to be in harmony with it. But it was also very good to meet Annette Dutertre the editor and Michel Barthélémy the set designer.
Among the ‘newcomers’, there’s also Chiara Mastroianni… We were both on the jury at the Deauville Film Festival the previous year. Without really having had any deep conversations, we felt a strong complicity, an accord. One evening Chiara saw me flying off the handle, I mean with no holding back, I felt that she had seized hold of me and I let go. We wanted to go back together, so we shared a car to Paris, and on the way she decided to buy her son a bicycle, which we put in the trunk. We were lucky to spend this time together, with no calculation, no consequences for us. But even today she intimidates me, her beauty, her brutal humour, her melancholy. It’s not easy to reach the secret zones Chiara hides under her “I can take anything” mask. She doesn’t allow herself to be loved easily; I mean to say she doesn’t let herself be loved passively.
Julie Bataille who plays Sandra, Marco’s sister, is another newcomer for you. I saw her in a crime series on television and her face, her voice, stuck in my mind. Long flash. This meeting took a long time to happen. She is beautiful, Latin, brunette, a Picasso model… She even looks like a little bull. She was afraid of this role, I told her: “So there are two of us.” Sandra is also me, it’s my place in the film. The blinded, the pretend-blind, the frightened. All the women in the film are brunettes, Mediterranean.
How did you present her role to Chiara Mastroianni? As a young woman who lacks self-confidence, who finds certainty only in material comforts for her child. She accepts to be seen as a semi-courtesan, as if she had forgotten about her life, a kept woman, a whore, yes, maybe but who has a child and can’t renounce her life. The scene I didn’t shoot was a moment from her past.